Experience of a Lifetime

My parents were world travelers.
They didn’t always travel. But when they did, they went for a year at a time. My father taught English at Brigham Young University for 39 years. This meant two things:

  • Our family lived on a modest income, and
  • My father received periodic sabbatical leave, where he could be gone for a year at a
    time and be paid half-salary during his absence

In the 1950’s my parents took their first year-long sabbatical. They loaded up my four siblings and carted them off to Europe, where my father picked up a Volkswagen Microbus (the forerunner of the Vanagon) at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Austria (thereby saving a few dollars). Because my parents had limited funds, they planned to camp (outdoors) with our family through Europe for an entire year in the Microbus and a tent – and they planned to do this during the winter. As the weather grew colder and the snow began to fall, they quickly realized their camping plan wasn’t going to work. So my father visited the local US army base in Germany to see if there was a need for any faculty for the college courses being offered to US servicemen and women. The army didn’t need any faculty in Germany, but they said there were openings at the US base in Spain – so with no reservations, no plans and limited funds my parents immediately drove to Madrid where my father accepted a teaching position at the US Army base and my siblings enrolled in school.

In 1964 our family returned to Europe for another yearlong adventure. This time I was now a participant (I was born after the previous trip) and I can recall attending a catholic school in Austria that was run by nuns, as well as attending a school in Vicenza, Italy (where I wore a smock).

In addition to these two year-long trips, my parents later spent the better part of a year travelling through Burma, Nepal, Indonesia and Asia. They also spent 18 months as volunteer missionaries in the England, London South mission. They spent a year teaching English in Xian, China and another year teaching English in Shanghai. All told, they spent something like 7 years living abroad during their many travels. So it was no surprise two years ago that Jerie, my spouse of 35+ years, turned to me one day and said “You know, we could sell our house and go on a mission.” The thought had never occurred to me. I had been practicing law for nearly 35 years. I had spent a number of years building my own practice and had recently started serving as a mediator nearly full-time. I instantly recognized what this meant: if we did this then I’d need to return all (or nearly all) of my remaining files to my clients; I’d need to find a home for my remaining legal clients and I’d need to wind down my mediation practice. Because mediation is generally a one-day event, I knew I’d be able to work right up until the day we left on our mission, and when we returned I’d likely be able to pick up my mediation practice almost where I had left off.

So I agreed.

We got our house spruced up, put in some new flooring, ditched all of the assorted jumble we’d acquired in the 20 years we’d lived in our home and then put our house on the market. It sold quickly and effortlessly. We soon found ourselves living at my mother-in-law’s home of nearly 60 years; we stored all of our worldly goods in two 10×10 mini storage units nearby. We accepted an invitation to relocate to West Africa where I would be serving – without pay – in a Church legal position helping with all the legal needs that accompany a fast-growing church in a developing area. After three days of international legal training in Salt Lake City and another week’s worth of training in Provo, Utah we soon found ourselves in Accra, Ghana – where I now serve as a real estate missionary overseeing all the Church real estate acquisitions (and most of the real estate litigation) in 17 developing West African nations. It has been (and still is) a singular experience.

A year ago, I knew next to nothing about West Africa. I now know a whole lot more. We have been privileged to serve with like minded couples from all over the world who come here to serve (at their own expense) building Africa and serving its people in a hundred different ways – everything from literacy training to music education; from teaching self-reliance to facilitating spiritual and religious education; from drilling bore-holes for clean water sources to training young men and young women for successful careers; from facilitating higher secular educational opportunities for young people to interviewing people throughout West Africa as a way to preserve their oral histories. We have grown to know – and love – our local West African friends. We’ve been to their weddings and their funerals. We’ve taken them to dinner and been to dinner in their homes. We talk with them; we laugh with them; we worship with them. We’ve come to know their strengths, their struggles, their concerns, their joys, their challenges, and their sterling characters.

It’s the experience of a lifetime.

Copyright 2023 ROBERT B. JACOBS